Since the 1980s, an exodus of Indigenous communities from Mexico to the United States has generated a social, cultural, economic, and political exchange between the two countries. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly disrupted that exchange, altering the lives of families that had already been fractured. In his photographs, Yael Martínez captures a tapestry of family, religion, ritual, poverty, longing, loss, and what it means to leave one’s home behind. He was born in the Mexican state of Guerrero, where many of these images were made, and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 21.

Martínez’s story, “Turning Darkness Into Light,” focuses on the immigrants often cut from this nation’s narrative: the Indigenous peoples of Central America. His photographs remind us that the histories of the modern-day Aztec and Maya, of Mesoamerica, do not belong only in history books; rather, as descendants of some of the first immigrants to the continent, their ancestors traveled through North America before there were borders or cities. Today these comunidades originárias—or “original communities,” as Martínez calls Indigenous people—rise from adversity and escape violence hoping to make a better life for themselves and their families. In leaving their remote villages of Mexico and finding their way to the city of immigrants—New York—Martínez sees his own story in their faces, in their customs, and in the communities they build together, where they find a new home.

Artist Bios

  • Yael Martínez

    Yael Martínez is an Associate of the agency Magnum Photos.

    Martínez has earned a number of honors for his photography, including the 2022 National Geographic Wayfinder Award; membership in Mexico’s National System of Arts Creators (SNCA); the 2019 Eugene Smith Grant; a Magnum Photos Nominee; and a fellowship with the Magnum Foundation’s Photography and Social Justice Program. Martínez also won the World Press Photo Contest in the region of North and Central America in the open-format category in 2022 and second prize for long-term projects in 2019.

    In addition to his work for National Geographic, Martínez has been widely published in Aperture, The New York Times, Time, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, Vogue Italy, Bloomberg News, and Vrij Nederland. He has exhibited in solo and group shows in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the U.S.


  • National Geographic

    National Geographic

    Established in 1888, National Geographic is a trusted print and digital publication offering stories that illuminate, inspire, and reveal. Our mission is to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of cultures, the sciences, and the natural world. We advance that mission by creating visually stunning, richly reported photojournalism and distinguished, impartial coverage of the globe’s most pressing issues. National Geographic (@natgeo) has more than 284 million followers.

Turning Darkness into Light

 coming soon

Featuring: Yael Martínez

Presented by: National Geographic
  • National Geographic

Supported by:

  • NYC Parks


ON VIEW AT: Truss Banner 41

View Location Details Brooklyn Bridge Park – Emily Warren Roebling Plaza

1 Water St
Brooklyn, NY 11201

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